Online English classes – how to motivate your students

Online English classes - how to motivate your students

When you teach online English classes, you need to know how to motivate your students.

To motivate your students, you must know their specific interests, what drives them to do an online course and what you as their teacher can help them with. Yes, how you can help them is crucial to their motivation.

As teachers, we need to know how we can help our students feel more connected to themselves as learners. Our students must feel personally invested in what they are training for.

The factors that apply to effective face to face training or traditional education formats will also be true for online learning formats. Some standard factors that are necessary for student success are the following: a low student-to-teacher ratio, level appropriate teaching material, adequate TTT (teacher talking time) and STT (student talking time), an in-depth needs analysis to determine students’ specific needs, etc. These factors apply, regardless of the format – face to face or online. However, there are specific techniques online teachers can adopt that will maximise the motivation, learning, and retention of students.

If you want to motivate your online students, they need to connect with the subject matter. For example, if you are training your students online to be TEFL or TESOL teachers, prior to even starting Day 1 of the course, they should know exactly what options are there when they finish their course. Will they travel the world as freelance English teachers? Will they want to work in a school specialising in TEYL (Teaching English to Young leaners)? Will they want to teach Business English courses to workers in the corporate world?

There are many English teaching roles so it is important that you provide opportunities for students to personally relate to the subject matter, to set their own goals, their own progress tracking against what job they want to do after graduation. You can also encourage them to collaborate with you on the material used on the course.

Based on their goals, they could ask for more material or more emphasis related to the English teaching role they want to pursue after the course. For example, if they want to concentrate on teaching Business English, they could ask for more ESP (English for Specific Purposes)  related material or ways on how to design and conduct a concise ESP course.

When you work with your students in this manner, you become a facilitator rather than just a communicator of information.

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Teaching is teaching is teaching. I have been an effective face to face (Onsite) English teacher for many years, surely an Online course will not be hard to teach.

The challenge of keeping our students engaged and motivated is common across the board – subject matter, grades, courses, and all types of educational/training environments. As your contact is only done through the internet, many new challenges come into play.

When there is no face-to-face contact, you as the teacher will not be able to pick up on the non-verbal clues to show that your students are unmotivated, disengaged, or uninterested. A worse scenario would be a student that does not seem to get it. He or she is simply not at par with the others. He has shown a lot of interest, you can see that he is trying his best, but he is still failing. On a face to face course, you can speak to him/her right after the class, give him remedial, make up material on the spot. On an online course, you can still help him/her, but you need to make time to speak to him online privately. You might find out that he has a learning problem, maybe he is dyslexic. This might not have disclosed at enrolment time so now he is failing. These are just some real-life instances when a face to face course is better than an online one. The speed and effectivity with which you can address the problem is the key here. All that said, the problem is solvable, and you will rise to challenge and schedule a private Zoom, Skype, Facetime or whatever is preferable to discuss the solutions to the problem. You can help your student, but you will be doing it electronically. It can be done despite some inconvenience but yes, it can be done.

As the teacher, you also cannot share their feelings and it is hard to show your students your enthusiasm and concern. When the student feels unnoticed, they can participate half-heartedly, withdraw, or drop out from the course.

Another lesser discussed factor is the student’s feeling about the course even before they start. They may have enrolled on an online course thinking that it will be easier and will require less of their time. If they started with this feeling, they will be more prone to disengagement and demotivation.

The EBC online Trinity CertTESOL

Get premium accredited TESOL certification without leaving home. Learn how to teach English in a classroom and online using ZOOM. At EBC we walk the talk and practice what we preach.

Proven ways to motivate Online students

It is not all doom and gloom on the Online teaching front!  There are many advantages to the online environment that make it easier to motivate and engage students.

Online courses being self-paced to a large degree, allows students to fit their work, family, commitments into their schedules. Those who prefer to log in to the course at midnight are more than welcome to do so!

Quizzes and interactive features that offer instant feedback has proven to be very motivating. You can also find many engaging experiences on the internet that can encourage their creativity.

Tell me more about an Online learner’s background

You get all types of students on an online course. Their reasons and objectives for being in an online course may vary but there are commonalities that can help you the teacher in designing engaging strategies. Online students want a flexible schedule to achieve their educational objectives while juggling the other commitments they currently have.

These are just some of the skills that Online students must have to cope effectively in an Online course: Time management, self-organisation, self-discipline, structure, confidence, and the ability to set priorities of effort. The ability to recognise gaps in learning through reflection and self-assessment is also important.

Students’ profiles – They can be on their gap years, to career changers, returners to work or high achievers looking for another challenge. Students on an online course are generally older and there is a higher percentage of female students.

Study habits – most online students have multiple commitments – work, family, other demands on their time, causing irregular online hours. Competing obligations are incorporated into their lives (work, travel, family, other courses), consequently the online coursework may not always be their priority, causing assignments to be done at the last minute.

Tips to design pedagogically engaging coursework

There are many ways to create an engaging design for your course material.  Do not limit your course to blocks of dense text and sparse images. Use video, audio, music, interactive and image driven features.

Use a video of exciting topics in your course. For example, you are teaching your students how to teach a TEYL class. Use a video of teachers teaching young learners in different settings. Use a video of a structured elementary class vs. that of a class taught in makeshift classrooms. It shows teachers in opposite settings and how they deal with it. Your learners should be asked to reflect on the teaching styles they saw. They should also be encouraged to discuss and share what they would have done otherwise.

You can make use of “gateway” assignments, which students must complete before they move on to the next stage of the course.

Adopt instructional methods that help students discover better or alternate ways of learning.

Use forums (on Moodle) to create a sense of community and promote active engagement within the course.

Create course material that are current. Incorporate recent news features and events into existing course topics.

Incorporate debates, discussions based on current events, case studies or policy issues. Set the example for how discussion should be done.

Set up peer groups – You will have your extrinsically motivated students who are motivated and encouraged by achievement in relation to their peers; intrinsically motivated students interact with peers to learn more, to gain insight. Working in peer groups will benefit both types of students. Show suggestions for using peer groups.

Setting Expectations

There should be clear course objectives and targets. If the course goals are clearly laid out, students will be able to act accordingly, to prepare for what is expected from them and as such regard the course as worthwhile.

Show tips

Clearly explain the learning expectations before you start teaching. Share with your class tips on successful teaching strategies used by other students in previous classes.

Create a detailed course plan. The plan should include information on assignment and deliverables, deadlines, templates for how work is  submitted and advice on how to complete the work correctly and on time.

Keep the course website updated with notifications of any changes to the course, deadlines that were not originally planned for, new strategies and tips on assignment completion, etc.

A good course will have a pre-planned and consistent timetable so that deadlines are predictable.


As we rely on the typed communication on an online course, more care must be given to the words we choose. On a face to face course, we can always rephrase something said incorrectly and still come out unscathed. On an online course, the written word stays in their minds.

There are many ways to stay in touch with your students. If you are good with technology, aim for frequent and regular contact especially if a student is falling behind. There’s Zoom, Skype, WhatsApp, Messenger, FaceTime, etc. Use whichever the student prefers.


There are many ways to do an assessment. Teachers employ the carrot (intellectual stimulation) and stick (consistent deadline with clear expectations and consequences with a well-defined late policy for all assignments) forms of assessment.

Late policy

Provide timely, specific, and personalised assessments for all assignments. If you start with a written feedback for each assignment, try using video/audio tracks for giving feedback for assignments. Using a screen capture video, you can “point” to various parts of an assignment and record verbal feedback.

Online English classes - how to motivate your students

The EBC online Trinity CertTESOL

Get premium accredited TESOL certification without leaving home. Learn how to teach English in a classroom and online using ZOOM. At EBC we walk the talk and practice what we preach.